Leadership Strengths and Weaknesses: HR Weighs In

What are the most important leadership strengths and weaknesses one needs to get to the C-suite? IMPACT Group recently surveyed HR professionals across the US to find out what skills and characteristics leaders need to move up the ranks. (These are also telling insights when it comes to developing and evaluating leadership training programs to help high-potential talent.)

The graph below presents the results of IMPACT Group’s Trends in Developing Leaders survey. We asked more than 100 HR executives to weigh in on leadership strengths and weaknesses that can make or break a career. Here’s how they ranked these six strengths.

Leadership Strengths and Weaknesses

We asked HR executives to tell us how these six traits would matter in someone’s career path to the executive ranks if the trait was missing. They rated each on a 5-point scale, with No. 1 as most important.

They rated “Emotional Intelligence” also known as “emotional quotient” (EQ) as the #1 trait, if missing, to most likely cost someone a promotion. Conversely, when EQ is someone’s strength, it would likely be the #1 factor in someone’s success.

Ranked as a close second is verbal communications, followed by analytical skills; fairness with regard to DEI; innovative, creative thinking; and last, written communications.

We underscore the high rating of emotional intelligence. EQ – often viewed as a soft skill – was rated slightly more essential (or if lacking, slightly more detrimental) to someone’s career than “hard skills” such as abilities in analytical or innovative thinking.

#1 Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence has become a hot topic over the last few decades.

As a psychological theory, EQ was developed by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer. According to Salovey and Mayer, EQ “is the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.” The theory gained speed over the next two decades. In 2011, 71% of employers reported that they valued EQ over IQ, according to a CareerBuilder Survey. This same survey indicated 59% of employers would not hire someone who has a high IQ but low EQ. For workers being considered for a promotion, the high EQ candidate beat out the high IQ candidate in most cases.

Why is EQ so vital to successful leadership? Experts assert that employees with higher EQ scores tend to be stronger performers, better able to manage stress, and have better interpersonal functioning.

When it comes to leadership strengths and weaknesses, IMPACT Group’s study confirmed that EQ outranks five other important leadership strengths, including verbal and written communication, analytical skills, and innovative thinking. In fact, 60% of those surveyed reported that not having a high level of EQ is the biggest issue that keeps a leader from being promoted to CEO.


#2 Strong Verbal Communication/Presentation Skills

“Communication is your ticket to success if you pay attention and learn to do it effectively,” — Theo Gold, author of self-help books on communication, motivation, positive thinking, confidence, and networking. 

Communication skills are undoubtedly important in not just our careers but also in our personal lives. After all, how do you communicate goals, a plan of action, build relationships, and foster a sense of connection? How do you convey your ideas, gain trust, and advance your career? Much of these goals are accomplished through verbal communication.

Verbal communication and presentation skills were ranked as the second most important leadership strength out of six. According to IMPACT Group’s study, 58% of respondents believe that weak verbal communication skills prevent people from being promoted.


#3 Strong Analytic Skills

When it comes to the business climate, the pandemic accelerated the rate at which change has taken place in a myriad of ways. What worked a year ago, or even a few months ago, may no longer be relevant now. Gathering and analyzing information is critical to keep a company moving forward.

The ability to apply statistical data to create and execute an action plan is one of the most important leadership strengths a potential leader can possess – as a leader can’t afford a misstep like making vital decisions based on bad data.

When it comes to leadership strengths and weaknesses, 45% of the HR leaders in our survey said that weak analytical skills are likely to prevent a promotion.


#4 Fairness

Are employees treated fairly when it comes to opportunities, pay, bonuses, time off, and performance expectations? Will a leader help employees feel as if they belong – no matter their race, socioeconomic background, sexual preference, or religion?

Fair and equitable treatment in the workplace isn’t just a “good to have, it is paramount to the health of the employees AND the organization. A research collaboration between Stockholm University and the University of East Anglia found that employees who feel unfairly treated were more likely to develop health issues.

The European research found that when employees felt they were fairly treated they were more likely to trust their employer, showed more dedication toward the organization, enjoyed the work they do and felt safer contributing ideas. Those employees who felt as if the deck is stacked against them use more sick days, poison the morale of the team, and increase turnover.

According to an article by HR Magazine, employees who are treated fairly “… are more likely to help colleagues are more willing to go through difficult times with the organization and stay with the business for a longer time.”

With that information in mind, it is no wonder survey respondents cited fairness (acts in regard to Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion) as one of the most important leadership skills. In fact, 40% of respondents reported someone without that sense of impartiality is likely to be passed over for the big promotion to a leadership role.


Get Our Latest Study for More Leadership Insights 

Helping leaders assess their strengths and weaknesses and build their competencies is what we do best at IMPACT Group. Learn more from our most recent study – Fit for Purpose Leadership Development Study. Get your copy of the study now.